Could you forgive a Nazi?

Discuss the August 2014 book of the month The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult.
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lnygaard
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Could you forgive a Nazi?

Post by lnygaard »

I was talking about this book the other day with my family and it ended up being a discussion on forgiving Nazis. In the book, Josef feels that Sage had the powere to forgive him because of her Jewish heritage---do you think he's right? If someone asked you to forgive them even if it didn't directly affect you, would you do it?

Personally, I think I wouldn't be able to do it. Since I wasn't directly affected by the holocaust or my family I would feel a little strange offering it. I don't think it would be my place... Then again can you hold one SS officer accountable for the entire genocide? What do you think?
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Post by gali »

I didn't read the book, but I wouldn't forgive nor forget in her place. I can understand why Josef felt she had the power to forgive him and it does affects her in a way due to her Jewish heritage. I wouldn't want any connection with that kind of person in her place nor would I forgive him.

One needs to remember the Holocaust and its innocent victims. It is especially important in our times when some dare to deny it has ever happened. let's not forget that the SS was responsible for the vast majority of war crimes perpetrated under the Nazi regime and therefore SS officers should be hold accountable for it. By the way, the Nazi also persecuted gay, Gypsies and people with disabilities and of course Jews were the majority.
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Post by Fran »

Not having been personally directly impacted by the Nazi regime, except in so far as we are all tarnished by such evil, I fail to see what I would be forgiving. Forgivness surely is a matter for those who had their lives and their families destroyed by the Nazi regime & it would be to display extreme arrogance were I to suggest they forgive.
Last week our national TV station transmitted a documentary titled "Close to Evil" an extraordinary and moving story of a survivor of Bergen-Belsen and his efforts to meet a former Nazi prison guard - not in any spirit of vengence but with an offer of healing. It is a most moving and powerful production but the interviews, from 2004, with the former guard (now in her 90's) was nothing short of chilling. How do you forgive someone who really doesn't think she did anything wrong?
However, at the end of the film Tomi meets the granddaughter of the Nazi officer responsible for deporting him to Bergen-Belsen & responsible for the murder of 35 of Tomi's extended family - their meeting is absolutely heart stopping. I don't know if the Jewish faith has the concept of a saint (in the sense the Catholic Church has) but to me Tomi Reichental is probably as close to a saint as you can have here on Earth.
Should you ever have an opportunity to watch "Close to Evil" I just can't recommend it highly enough.
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Post by Sveta »

Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal actually explores similar themes, of a Jewish man forgiving/not forgiving the Nazi. I'm sorry but I don't think I'll be able to forgive those people. They tortured people, didn't do anything to help them and didn't even think its wrong what they did. If that person truly shows remorse then its a different story. Should the oppressed and others forgive those who took advantage of them and destroyed their families and heritage?
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Post by gali »

Sveta wrote:Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal actually explores similar themes, of a Jewish man forgiving/not forgiving the Nazi. I'm sorry but I don't think I'll be able to forgive those people. They tortured people, didn't do anything to help them and didn't even think its wrong what they did. If that person truly shows remorse then its a different story. Should the oppressed and others forgive those who took advantage of them and destroyed their families and heritage?
I agree with you and feel the same.
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Post by stoppoppingtheP »

This is a very difficult topic, but on the one hand, people often do things and follow authority even if in their heart they know it is not right. It is easier to be a 'sheeple' then to stand against the flow. If it was me, I certainly would never forget, but perhaps I would be able to forgive, or at least move on and let a Higher Authority (God) judge him on what he has done in the past, because we never truly know peoples hearts and intentions.

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Post by HannahGibson »

Honestly, I think it depends on the Nazi soldier and the circumstances surrounding his or her participation in the genocide. If he obviously enjoyed hurting and causing suffering, it would be harder to forgive him. If he joined just because he was expected to as a young man in the draft, I think it would be different. It depends on the situation and level of personal horror and regret for the Nazi soldier. Good thought.

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Post by PashaRu »

Yes, of course. Forgiving someone in no way justifies or excuses what he/she did in the past. And whether or not forgiveness is extended depends on how the person himself feels about what he did.

There is no justification for what the Nazis did. The organization was the epitome of evil. We should never, ever minimize or try to excuse the horrors it perpetrated against the world and millions of innocent people. I've walked through Dachau and Mauthausen concentration camps. I've looked into the crematorium ovens. I've been inside the gas chambers. I've been inside the barracks, the "cold storage" room where corpses waiting for cremation were stored, seen the room and touched the table where sickening medical experiments were conducted, and the wall against which prisoners were stood and shot. Let me tell you, it's an experience you'll never forget.

However, I think that people can change. It's possible that a person who was a Nazi in WWII could later realize and understand the awful mistake he made in supporting that evil organization and have a complete change of heart. He could be cut to the heart and have deep remorse and regret over his role in those horrors. He could be a completely changed man. I think we have to allow for that possibility. (This in no way means he should be free from punishment. That's a different matter altogether.)

Don't ever excuse, justify, or forgive the Nazi party. And if a person who was a Nazi feels that what he did was okay, there is no basis to extend forgiveness. But if an individual truly changes, then he can be forgiven. I think we have to be able to differentiate between the person and the organization. Again, forgiving does not mean justifying or excusing. And I think that if we cannot forgive, no matter how much a person has changed and how deeply he/she regrets past actions, that is very sad indeed.

Finally, I realize that for some, especially those whose lives have been personally affected by the atrocities of the Holocaust, it may be extremely difficult to forgive a former Nazi. I understand that and would never criticize such a person. I am grateful that I don't know what it's like to stand in those shoes.
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Post by lnygaard »

PashaRu wrote: Don't ever excuse, justify, or forgive the Nazi party. And if a person who was a Nazi feels that what he did was okay, there is no basis to extend forgiveness. But if an individual truly changes, then he can be forgiven. I think we have to be able to differentiate between the person and the organization. Again, forgiving does not mean justifying or excusing. And I think that if we cannot forgive, no matter how much a person has changed and how deeply he/she regrets past actions, that is very sad indeed.
Forgiveness does not mean the action is justified. Excellent point!

This is a topic pretty much anyone can have an opinion on whether they read the book or not, but going back to the book, it seems to me that Sage sees forgiving Josef equals to excusing his actions/his part in being a guard at Auschwitz. Like PashaRu said---I don't think that is the basis of forgiveness. Would her Grandmother, who was a Jew in a concentration camp, have forgiven him? I think we would all hope she would, but would understand if she didn't/couldn't.

I said I wouldn't forgive since I would feel like any forgiveness I offered would be hollow. I'm not Jewish or have any relatives who were affected by genocide. If a former Nazi knocked on my door and asked for forgiveness for crimes against humanity...? I would sort of equate it to a murderer of a family across town asking me to forgive him. Why are you asking me? What you did was awful and horrifying, but I can't sit on the judgment seat because it didn't hurt me or mine.

So I guess the next leading question would be, if we don't forgive does that mean we hold on to the wrong that much tighter?
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Post by Alden Loveshade »

I think many people do not understand the psychological effects of unforgiveness. I try to forgive people in my own mind for everything that upsets me. Refusing to forgive is holding onto self-hurt and can be psychologically unhealthy. In the mind and emotions it is virtually identical to hate turned inward. As one of my favorite authors wrote, "Hate is like fire; it burns those who hold it."

As for the Nazis, there's a tendency to turn whatever group people don't like into inhuman monsters. That's not only not accurate, it's dangerous. If you're hoping to identify a threat by looking for monsters, you'll likely never see the threat until it's too late. There were Nazis who supported their country, took good care of their families, and served their community. There were people who fought the Nazis who were selfish, cruel, and traitorous.

I've never personally had a problem with Nazis, but if I were to identify those friends I've been the closest to, many of them were and are Jewish.

I have had people who tried to destroy me and ruin my life. I forgave them--because I didn't want to burn myself.

-- 11 Sep 2014, 14:52 --

As I am new here, I should probably add a note of explanation. I believe very strongly in personal freedom if it doesn't stop someone else's personal freedom. I do not support totalitarian regimes, torture, or executions.

I do believe love and forgiveness work.
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Post by helenWall »

I think forgiveness when not given hurts the person who needs to forgive more, than the person asking for forgiveness.

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Post by PashaRu »

helenWall wrote:I think forgiveness when not given hurts the person who needs to forgive more, than the person asking for forgiveness.
Agreed. It's been said, "If I harbor a grudge against someone, it's like I'm drinking poison and hoping that the other person dies from it."
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Post by Fran »

When talking theory it's easy to say people should be forgiving and easy to say glibly that not to forgive is corrosive but IMO forgivness is something that cannot be demanded, cannot be forced, nor should pressure be put on a person or a people who have been greviously and heinously wronged to forgive. Pressure to forgive, to show yourself to be a better person than the offender, may be seen as diminishing the offence caused and can add to the burden of hurt & suffering.
There is an old saying "time is a great healer" and it surely is but it is for the hurt or the wronged to decide when that time comes & those who have committed evil must wait humbly & hope for that forgivness.
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Post by gali »

Fran wrote:When talking theory it's easy to say people should be forgiving and easy to say glibly that not to forgive is corrosive but IMO forgivness is something that cannot be demanded, cannot be forced, nor should pressure be put on a person or a people who have been greviously and heinously wronged to forgive. Pressure to forgive, to show yourself to be a better person than the offender, may be seen as diminishing the offence caused and can add to the burden of hurt & suffering.
There is an old saying "time is a great healer" and it surely is but it is for the hurt or the wronged to decide when that time comes & those who have committed evil must wait humbly & hope for that forgivness.
Well said and I agree!

We are talking about a heinous crime here, not about some petty offense. :roll:
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Post by ALynnPowers »

lnygaard wrote:I was talking about this book the other day with my family and it ended up being a discussion on forgiving Nazis. In the book, Josef feels that Sage had the powere to forgive him because of her Jewish heritage---do you think he's right? If someone asked you to forgive them even if it didn't directly affect you, would you do it?

Personally, I think I wouldn't be able to do it. Since I wasn't directly affected by the holocaust or my family I would feel a little strange offering it. I don't think it would be my place... Then again can you hold one SS officer accountable for the entire genocide? What do you think?
I agree with you about not being able to forgive because I wasn't directly affected. I feel like it's not my place offering forgiveness for something that I have no connection to. It's basically an insult to the people it did affect, since I don't know the emotional connection like they do.

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